Freaky-indicators

With the second revision to GDP days away, economists are looking for any macro data that supports their view that growth continues to moderate. There are many odd indicators that are arguably more reliable than some of the data that we get from the government. Many investors use them to guide their views on the economy. And sometimes, they are spot on.

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Unclaimed corpse indicator
The concept: Because of high funeral costs, family members never claim the bodies of the deceased so the state will pay for costs.

The proof: In 2009, at the height of the financial crisis when non-farm payrolls were falling by more than half a million a month, Detroit logged a massive increase in the number of unclaimed bodies at its morgue. State payouts for burials nearly doubled over a two month period compared from just a year earlier.

The first date indicator
The concept: People seek out others for first dates when the economy turns down and sentiment falls (they’re lonely!).

The proof: Match.com notices strong patterns on its site that correspond to economic downturns. The company said the fourth quarter of 2008 was its busiest period in seven years (its second busiest weekend ever came when the Dow dropped to five-year lows in November 2008). Match said traffic also spiked after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mosquito bite indicator
The concept: Mosquito bites increase as more homes sit empty and ill maintained. With higher grass and disheveled properties, back yards and swimming pools become breeding grounds for the pest.

The proof: In 2009, the number of pools that had to treated by the Maricopa County Environmental Services Department jumped 60 percent from 2007, as foreclosed properties sat unattended. However, this metric may have become less useful as banks delayed foreclosing on homes in an effort to preserve the housing market.

Consumer beer consumption index
The concept: Won’t be able to make it out to that bar after work? Apparently you aren’t alone. Consumers often try to save money by drinking at home, sending pub sales and jobs into a tizzy.

The proof: In Europe, 73 percent of jobs tied to the beer industry are outside breweries. These include jobs at bars and restaurants. From 2008 through 2010, employment in the beer industry fell 12 percent versus 2 percent for Europe as a whole. Surely austerity measures feel much harder without that drink.

The plastic surgery indicator
The concept: People stop getting cosmetic surgery as the economy begins to waver. The reasons: 1. If job cuts are coming, people want to save for futures needs, 2. Even if job cuts are not coming, employees don’t want to take off work to stay in the best grace of their bosses.

The proof: Plastic surgery revenue in the U.S. declined 9 percent in 2008 as the economy headed into contraction, with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons expressly citing the bad economy.

The high heel index
The concept: “Usually, in an economic downturn, heels go up and stay up-as consumers turn to more flamboyant fashions as a means of fantasy and escape,” IBM’s Dr. Trevor Davis said.

The proof: During the 1920s low flapper shoes gave way to high pumps during the Depression, while stilettos surged over the dot-com boom. The most recent case shows some deviation. While dizzying heel heights were the talk over the 2008-09 crisis, they came down even as the U.S. economy sputtered at the end of 2010 into 2011.

Author: Eric Platt, businessinsider.com